This afternoon, ESPN NBA analysts Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson, also former Warriors head coach, took part in an ESPN media call to discuss the 2015 NBA Western Conference Finals.
The Western Conference Finals will continue exclusively on ESPN with Game 2 on Thursday at 9 p.m. ET with Mike Breen, Van Gundy, Jackson, and Doris Burke reporting.
Click here for the replay of today’s media call.
Q. Jeff, any thoughts on what Houston needs to do to recover either emotionally or physically from the game last night? Obviously, Dwight Howard’s availability has not yet been confirmed. What are your thoughts in general about the way the Rockets performed on the road with the short turnaround last night?
JEFF VAN GUNDY: I thought they played a great game. They were ready to go. They were aggressive, intense and active, jumped out to the 16‑point lead. I think the smaller lineup of Golden State sort of turned the tide a little bit. I think the turnover situation led to Golden State scoring in transition well. And then I think the Howard injury can’t be overlooked. He wasn’t playing particularly well; you know, at the time he had five turnovers, some balls that could have led directly to baskets. But he’s still such a great defender, rebounder and screen setter that to have him healthy is absolutely a necessity if Houston’s going to win this series.
Q. Jeff, you’ve been reported as a possible candidate for this New Orleans job and just wanted to see if there’s any interest or any chance that you can get away from the TV booth?
VAN GUNDY: Well, I have too much respect for the coaching profession and the sanctity of a job search to publicly speak about any job openings. That’s really not my style. So I’ll just leave it as I’ve said many times, I have the absolute utmost respect for Monty Williams. I coached him, I know what a class guy he is. He has integrity and humility and I thought he did an outstanding job, and I think he can be very, very proud of what he was able to accomplish there. You know, as far as the job search, I don’t get into the public domain on that. I just don’t think it’s right.
Q. Coach Jackson, you coached and mentored so many of these Warriors players, I’m just wondering what your emotions are to see them continuing that improvement and advancing to the conference finals here?
MARK JACKSON: Well, I’m happy for them, proud of what we were able to accomplish the three years I was there. There was a lot of hands and a lot of great work by players, by ownership, by management, by my staff, so proud of that. I’m thrilled that they’re continuing that. At the end of the day, you know, three years ago if you said that they would be the favorite to win the NBA Championship and have the season that they’ve had, it’s an unbelievable accomplishment and it’s a lot of recognition across the board including this current staff of Steve Kerr and his guys. They’ve done an outstanding job, so wish them nothing but the very best and obviously relationships that I have for a long time, so good to see what they’ve been able to accomplish.
Q. With so many one‑and‑outs and guys who are kind of with great potential but don’t have the polish yet, if you guys were building a franchise, and obviously the Warriors took Curry on the chance when he was a junior and he was more polished, how do you build a franchise or do you have to take chances on some of these guys?
JACKSON: Well, I think one thing you have to have is great and realistic ownership, outstanding management, outstanding scouting departments because there’s coaches in this league, you don’t get to see as many of these guys lives or, you know, you’re worried about the team that you’re coaching. So you’ve got to trust the scouting department and trust people. Different teams have the luxury of where they are to wait on guys, and there are teams obviously in this lottery this year that need immediate help. So it’s important to understand that you’re not going to turn a franchise around with a lottery pick, whether it be a No. 1, a No. 7, what have you, immediately. It takes work, it’s a process, and you’ve got to be willing to stay true to the process. There’s a reason why the D‑League organizations continue to feed that and other teams continue to swing for the fences. Obviously there’s some very good talent in this draft and I’ll be interested to see how it plays out.
VAN GUNDY: The bottom line is, particularly at the top end of the lottery, you’ve got to hit it right. You’re not a good team at the present moment and you’ve got to get a Hall of Famer. I mean, that’s the goal when you have one of those topics. You know, we’ve seen No. 1 picks, you can get Tim Duncan or you can get Andrew Bogut. You can get a Hall of Famer or just another guy. So, you know, it’s critical. I’ve always felt that people talk about it’s a players league so that that is true and thus the person who picks the players are the most important person in your organization, and so you’ve got to have the right guys picking the players, he’s got to pick them right. You’ve got to have Hall of Fame players to have the chance to be a great team for multiple years and that’s why these draft choices are so important.
Q. Jeff, to follow up on your comments regarding Hall of Famers in the draft, the Lakers jumped up to No. 2. What do you think of those top two players, potentially big guys Karl‑Anthony Townes and Jahlil Okafor, and what they can do for the Lakers and what this means for the Lakers?
VAN GUNDY: Well, like Mark said, if you’re not studying them specifically, which I haven’t, you don’t know everything you need to know. But I would say both of them, obviously different players but both have talent. Now, what you really want to delve into is do they have an absolute love of the game, do they have that fire to work through adversity, do they have perseverance, do they have a competitive spirit that makes them unique. What all the all‑time greats have, that undying need to win and will to win. And that’s what the Lakers at No. 2 or Minnesota at No. 1, that’s what they’re trying to ascertain. They’re going to study the film, but they’re really going to try to figure out who has that growth mindset to never be satisfied. And it’s a great thing for the Lakers. You know, the Lakers, we’re used to seeing them never have down years, and when they have had a down year in the past, they’ve immediately been able to solve their problem and get a Hall of Fame talent. This gives them the opportunity picking No. 2 to do that. It’s a great day for the Lakers and their fans.
Q. Mark, the Warriors obviously were pretty successful last night using their small lineup for large portions of the game and especially late. Do you think they can do that throughout the rest of this series and in the NBA Finals and be successful?
JACKSON: Well, it really depends. You know, last night they were able to do it and do it successfully and not have to pay a price because of the absence of Dwight Howard. I think that’s why he’s very crucial in this series, his presence on the floor. You don’t want to give a steady diet of defending him with smaller guys when he’s at his best. So I really think to have a chance for the Rockets, they need Dwight Howard and they need his presence to be a force, the force of the Warriors to play big and have to deal with him. When the Warriors are playing small, they’re so good and talented it and allowed them to spread the ball and it gives more air space to Curry and Thompson. No secret about that, they played defense basketball last night with the smaller lineup on the floor.
Q. Mark, have the Pelicans contacted you about their opening and would you have an interest in that job?
JACKSON: You know, I’m having the time of my life calling these games. It was a dream of mine to be a player, to be a coach and to be an announcer. I’m sitting beside friends for over 25 years, guys I respect and love, and ESPN, ABC has been great to me. So I’m really enjoying what I’m doing and I have not been contacted, no, but I’m having a blast announcing games.
Q. Jeff, I kind of wanted to ask you about your relationship with the guys down in Houston and how’s that been calling the game for your team that you used to coach. How has it been with you in Houston?
VAN GUNDY: Well, for me there’s not many people left, you know, no players left. But I’m still, you know, very friendly with the guy who fired me, Daryl Morey. I consider him a good friend. And that may seem odd, but we worked together for a year and I really, really respect him, his work ethic. And his assistant general manager, I consider a dear friend. He’s a great man and a great person. And I have great respect for Les Alexander as an owner because he has a deep desire to win. He went the anti‑tank route when they were struggling. He kept trying to give the fans in Houston a good product as they were trying to rebuild and find star talent like they finally were ultimately able to do with Harden and Howard.
So I have a lot of respect for the people I used to work for there and for their drive to be a championship caliber team. But it’s just different because to me, I don’t know the players there at all and so I don’t really have that feeling about their accomplishment other than the people in management and ownership.
Q. How much do you guys think what Atlanta did last season by getting I think it was 39 wins, make the playoffs?
JACKSON: Well, I think it’s very valuable. There are people that will throw it away, but the experience, the value of going and participating in playoff basketball, the value of losing, the value of battling, to me that’s experience that pays off and it puts you in position to propel yourself to the type of season that the Atlanta Hawks had this year and I think it’s connected to what took place last year. It’s part of the process. It allows them to be a championship caliber team and they went through it together, which I think you can’t put a price on. So to me that’s the route to go as opposed to rolling the dice and hoping that the ping pong balls turn your way and hoping that a player turns out to be a franchise‑changing player.
VAN GUNDY: I think there are a couple different parts of it. I think the first part is the rules, the way they are that govern the lottery, to me incentivize people trying to do it by the tanking route. So I don’t blame the teams that are tanking, I blame that we still are holding onto the rules that encourage it.
And it’s a legitimate way of trying to get the top pick and have him turn into a Hall of Fame player, but I do think it cuts at the integrity of the game and the integrity of the competition. And so when you see a team like Atlanta, like Houston do it a different way, continually strive to be pretty good until they can get really good, and I think what Mark went through in Golden State, I mean, that’s what they did. Curry was injured the first year and they were trying, they were building habits, and the next year they made a jump and then, you know, another jump the next year.
So this game is about talent and habits and health and luck, and you don’t get habits just randomly so it must be difficult to try to turn on the right habits. I don’t think you do that. And so I think what Atlanta’s doing, what Houston did is showing that there is another way. You don’t have to bottom out to try to get good. But again, the teams that do choose to bottom out, I don’t blame them because they’re just trying to game the system the way the rules are.
Q. I’ve got a Draymond Green question for you. What are your thoughts on Green’s development this year and what comparisons you might or might not see in him?
JACKSON: Draymond Green is an outstanding player, does so many different things that put you in position to win basketball games on both sides of the floor. Defensively, being the ultimate competitor, he’s an outstanding leader. His ability to defend 1 through 5 and do it at a high level, I think his competitive spirit is contagious and these things have been consistent if you go back in time and watch him, whether it be in college or even before that. He continues to get better and better. The things you see him do on the floor today are the same things that you saw him do as a rookie that allowed us to advance in a playoff round against a 57‑win team, so he’s that good of a player. I’m not going to disrespect one of the greatest power forwards ever to play the game and Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, I don’t think that’s fair, but Draymond Green is a heck of a basketball player.
VAN GUNDY: Yeah, Mark was the first one to open my eyes to Green his rookie year even when he struggled. I think he had some weight issues that he got corrected, his shooting has improved, but you don’t find great competitors like him. Mark alerted me to that way back when he had him in his first training camp. You know, terrific basketball IQ, terrific competitive spirit, ability to guard multiple positions. And the thing that he does so well, he’s such a fine passer and decision maker, you saw that on display last night. A lot of teams are probably kicking themselves for bypassing someone who was a proven player. Just because he was a senior didn’t mean he couldn’t improve more, but oftentimes these guys who play through their senior year in college are looked at as finished products versus guys who just still have a lot of growth, and I think people obviously don’t know how good Draymond Green could be because they underestimated the importance of competitive spirit in basketball IQ.
Q. In regards to the Clippers‑Rockets series, talk about first Kevin McHale, what he saw in his strategy in Games 6 and 7 which seemed to be obviously really successful, and then what contributed in general or any specifics to the Clippers meltdown in that Game 6 and then just being outplayed in Game 7. What do the Clippers need to do to right the ship moving forward?
VAN GUNDY: Well, I think after six games the Clippers should have been up 5‑1. I thought they had dominated that series except for Game 5 where they didn’t play well. You know, I don’t think there was any strategic thing except to Kevin I thought showed a lot of coaching courage in that he was riding the hot unit and didn’t go back to James Harden. And Josh Smith I think made, what, three or four 3s during that run and they got hit by an avalanche and they couldn’t buy a bucket. And so then in Game 7 they just got outplayed. I thought Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan played well in Game 7, but I didn’t really think anybody else had a particularly good game. I think the main key is not to overreact. The Western Conference, you could not make the playoffs and be a good team. You could lose in the first round and be an all‑time team like San Antonio. So there’s no ‑‑ there’s no disgrace in losing to a higher seeded Houston team who’s very, very good. I just think being up 3‑1, you know, people expect you to advance. But to lose to Houston? Houston’s a really good team.
JACKSON: I totally agree.
Q. And I guess maybe to address what the Clippers need to do moving forward, just a couple key variables because people in Los Angeles are unsure about what this team can do or if they can win again or what’s in store for their future.
JACKSON: I’m not an expert on the situation with the Los Angeles Clippers financially and the moves that they’re able to make. What I will say is obviously DeAndre Jordan is a guy that has documented and trained, you know, he wants to bring them back. It’s important. You’ve got three guys that can flat out get it done at a high level in Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. You want to try to secure these years of them playing together.
And no secret, they’ve got to improve their bench, they’ve got to improve the guys around them. I did say during the playoffs with Houston and the Clippers that this series would haunt them the rest of their lives. That doesn’t mean that it’s over because I truly believe that the Spurs’ lost to the Miami Heat and then won a championship. That’s still going to haunt them the rest of their lives, so there’s still life for the Clippers. It’s about getting better and improving their depth, and Doc Rivers is a heck of a coach. And like Jeff said, it’s not a disgrace losing in the playoffs, especially in the Western Conference. These are very good basketball teams.
Q. With Kevin McHale and his experience and his perspective, what do you think he saw in that Game 6? I think he mentioned he held James Harden back and tossed Josh Smith in there and he was very successful and I think started him. Just his ‑‑ what Kevin McHale saw and how great of a coach he really is to be able to pull that off.
JACKSON: Well, he’s done a fantastic job all season long and the thing that sometimes you try to overanalyze this game. Ultimately what he did was he saw a bunch of guys on the floor competing at a high level and defending at a high level and giving them a chance to win and he decided to stick with those guys and he deserves a lot of credit for it.
Q. Howard’s availability still being in question at least at this point in time, what can the Rockets do to defend that spot, and if Howard is not available, how do they adapt, how do they react, what are the options for them?
JACKSON: I think it makes it tough, but if the Warriors are going to play small, then to a certain extent in my opinion you’ve got to play small, too. What you don’t want to do is, you know, create opportunities for them. Against this Warrior team you’ve got to be disciplined defensively for 48 minutes. They are so good at shooting the long ball that you can work to get a lead and then make three mistakes defensively and all of a sudden that’s a quick 9 points that you give up to the Warriors. So you’ve got to be disciplined enough and good enough on the perimeter because if you play big against that small lineup and don’t have a big that’s capable of forcing them to do things defensively and forcing them to have to pay a price for going small, there’s no use in playing big. To me, that’s really the only answer.
VAN GUNDY: I think they have versatility in their front court. I love Mark’s nickname for Capela, the a cappella, because I thought he was tremendous last night, mobile ability to switch, do multiple things. You’re not going to rely on a young rookie but I thought he gave him good minutes. I think the Terrence Jones‑Josh Smith tandem can work. And then because they have wings, I think Trevor Ariza with Corey Brewer Harden and a point guard and one big could also be effective as well. So I think the Rockets have versatility as well, it’s just that Houston ‑‑ I mean that Golden State’s offensive skill level when they go small is just so good. They can really, really pass the ball and then they’ve got the great Hall of Fame back-court.
Q. We haven’t gotten much of the take on the Eastern Conference. I know this is a Western Conference call, but the gentlemen and their takes on the Atlanta‑Cleveland series?
VAN GUNDY: Obviously I think Cleveland comes in where most people think that they’re going to win the series, but I think Atlanta, even though they’ve had a hard‑fought first two series, I think they’re going to play with a little bit of the pressure off of their shoulders as the No. 1 seed. I think they’re going to play very well. I like the versatility of their team. I think the Sefolosha injury has suddenly impacted them and I think particularly in this series where they’re looking for multiple defenders to be able to guard LeBron James, it really hurts them. But I think they’re going to play well and equip themselves well and I would not be surprised if they came out and won.
JACKSON: I totally agree. I think it’s going to be a great series. Atlanta’s been outstanding all season long. They have a style, they have an identity, they defend, the share the basketball. I agree with Jeff as far as not having the luxury to throw multiple defenders on LeBron could wear you out. And I think it boils down to injuries. Kyrie Irving, obviously his ability to take pressure off of LeBron by carrying that offense at times, but it will be interesting to see because you’ve got a defend around the perimeter, they’re so good at sharing the basketball. Great series and I think it’s going to be interesting to watch.
Q. For Coach Van Gundy, earlier you referred to when you have a No. 1 pick you can get a Tim Duncan or Andrew Bogut, a Hall of Famer or what you called another guy. What does Bogut have to do for the Warriors going forward because he didn’t have a great game last night?
VAN GUNDY: Well, again, I’m not trying to disrespect Bogut, but that’s the thing. Even on the floor, you can have Dwight Howard, who’s going to the Hall of Fame, or Bogut. Both were No. 1 picks in their respective drafts. It just shows you how hard it is to nail even that No. 1 pick. There’s no guarantees. And so Bogut, they’ve proven they can win with him or without him. Their best lineup oftentimes is the smaller lineup, which we saw last night, so he has absolutely no pressure on him. Whatever he gives them is a bonus because I don’t think they go in expecting him to put up big numbers, whereas Dwight Howard has a much heavier burden with Houston in that he’s got to be great every single night if they’re going to beat this terrific Golden State team. It goes to show the different level of scrutiny. You know, Howard is highly criticized and he’s heading to the Hall of Fame. Bogut, because expectations are a lot lower, he can have a zero‑point night and they can still win. It just shows you, one, how hard it is to get that No. 1 pick right. People remember back to the Dwight Howard thing, there were many people who were killing the Orlando Magic and Otis Smith for drafting Howard instead of Emeka Okafor.
So it just shows you even people who study it, hey, there’s no guarantee because a lot of it comes down to not just talent but how much do you love to compete, how willing are you to play through discomfort of minor nicks and bumps and bruises, do you have a great will to get better, do you have the mindset of being a great player, or do you just want to sort of blend in. Those things are really hard to determine until you coach somebody. So I feel for these guys having to make these decisions because so much rests on getting it right. Because if you get Dwight Howard and he’s your mainstay, as we saw in Orlando, you can get to the finals. If you ‑‑ again this is no knock, if you get Bogut, you know, you’re in the ‑‑ you stay in the lottery. So it’s just, you know, it’s hard, it’s hard to get it right.
Q. Mark, what was your relationship like with Steve Kerr this year not only just in the regular season but even here in the playoffs, somebody who’s obviously replaced you, but what was your relationship like with him and how is it now?
JACKSON: I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for him. He’s a class guy and our relationship has always been the same. Nothing but respect and appreciation for him and I’m happy for him. There’s never been and there never will be an issue between Steve and I. We talk every so often, and when I call the games he’s been extremely kind and generous and obviously supportive, so I’m happy for him.